Happy New Year in Hawaii: 3 Traditions to Celebrate Island Style

happy new year in hawaii
Hawaii Aloha Travel > Blog > Happy New Year in Hawaii: 3 Traditions to Celebrate Island Style

How do you say Happy New Year in Hawaii? Hauʻoli Makahiki Hou!

But how do you ring in the New Year in Hawaii? We have 3 traditions for celebrating island style!

Happy New Year in Hawaii

When the New Year rolls around in Hawaii, we celebrate it in a variety of ways. House parties or a night on town are the most obvious, of course. And there are always a few spectacular fireworks displays – residents and visitors alike gather and gawk at the spectacle.

But there are a couple of other traditions that are less about revelry than they are about honoring cultural practices that go back centuries. Ahead are 3 traditional ways we celebrate a happy New Year in Hawaii.

1. Mochi Pounding

Mochi Pounding

Mochi pounding is foremost among Hawaii’s New Year traditions. Brought from Japan by plantation workers in the 19th century, mochi pounding involves an intricate dance. 

Mochi pounders first soak rice for days. Then, they bring out large ceremonial mallets. Two pounders will alternate swinging the mallet while a third person kneads the doughy mass between strokes.

The ceremony honors Buddha, and while its roots are pious in nature, families of all religious persuasions gather at various Buddhist temples around Hawaii to participate. It’s a community-building affair, meant to bring peace and prosperity in the New Year.

2. Hawaii Sashimi for a Happy New Year

Sashimi Hawaii New Years traditions

Another honored tradition during the New Year in Hawaii is sashimi, or high-quality raw tuna. Local families flock to stores and suppliers to place sashimi orders for their Hawaii Happy New Year celebrations. 

In addition to raw tuna, locals will eat raw salmon, mackerel, squid, and octopus. 

Because demand for “sashimi grade” fish is so high around the New Year, prices in Hawaii tend to rise with it. Buyers can expect to pay up to $10 more per pound than during the rest of the year. If the fleet comes in with just a modest catch, those prices climb higher still.

3. Fireworks

Finally, fireworks are hugely popular on New Year’s Eve. They are also widely reviled. We’re not talking about complex aerial productions here. In fact, aerial fireworks are illegal on Oahu. 

But residents (and visitors) can purchase permits for fireworks, firecrackers, and the like. 

In neighborhoods all over Hawaii, New Year’s Eve is filled with what sounds like the sounds of combat. Normally quiet bedroom communities echo with the sound of legal (and, often, illegal) fireworks into the small hours of the morning. The smoke from these fireworks is often a problem for people with respiratory issues.

The Hawaii Happy New Year tradition of over-the-top fireworks goes back to China and other parts of Asia, where the fireworks are believed to ward off evil spirits as the New Year rolls in. And while some may find New Year fireworks to be a nuisance, and even a health risk, the traditions remain strong in Hawaii.

Ringing in a Happy New Year in Hawaii

Want to leave the food and fireworks up to the pros? Here are a few places that typically boast public firework displays on Oahu:

  • Kakaako Waterfront Park: Fireworks usually go off between 10:30 and 12:30. You can also see them from Ala Moana Regional Park and Mount Tantalus
  • Waikiki: You can see Waikiki’s aerial fireworks display across the Waikiki beach shoreline. Oftentimes the radio will sync up the production to music. Hawaii Aloha Travel can help book a cruise so you can celebrate a Happy New Year in Hawaii right on the water. 
  • Town Center of Mililani hosts an annual pineapple drop to ring in a happy new year Hawaii style. It typically happens around noon, so you can enjoy this celebration even if you don’t want to stay up late.